Everything You Thought You Knew About the Suicide-Holiday Link is Wrong


The holidays can be lonely, but that’s not the only cause of suicide. (Photo: Getty Images)

Suicides peak during the holidays, right? That’s what we’ve always heard. Between family stress — or sadness over lack of family and friends — and Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s no wonder that more people choose to take their lives in the dark, cold, lonely winter.

Except, that’s not really what happens. Evidence has shown time and time again that while many people are depressed in the winter, suicides spike in the summer — in fact, November and December regularly have the fewest suicides per month. It’s a myth that’s stuck around for years, no matter how much experts try to dispel it. It’s due in part to all the articles that perpetuate it — according to the CDC, an “analysis found that 50% of articles written during the 2009–2010 holiday season perpetuated the myth.” While the Annenberg Public Policy Center reports that most stories on the subject were accurate last year, many still link the holidays to suicide.

As The Atlantic reports, the misunderstanding may have kicked off with the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, in which the main character tries to kill himself before realizing how loved he is. And the idea that suicides peak in the winter makes logical sense — important for keeping an myth alive. The holidays can be stressful, and the dark mornings and evenings do make it hard to hop out of bed and stay cheery, though, but evidence shows that those factors don’t necessarily drive suicides. Generally, people are motivated by mental illness, trauma, or access to guns, as The Atlantic states.

While the myth of holiday suicides may seem innocuous enough, experts caution that it can prevent efforts to curb suicides when they’re most needed. The CDC cautions that “the holiday suicide myth supports misinformation about suicide that might ultimately hamper prevention efforts.” They can also confuse family and friends who are trying to help someone who is suicidal, or understand what drives someone to take their life.

That said, this doesn’t mean that suicides don’t occur during the winter months, and that season-related depression isn’t real. If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, visit http://suicideproof.org/resources.html or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255.

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